Men explain things to me

Nearly ten years ago I was living in an Italian city. It had an old part and a new part. I lived in the new part, which was nothing to shout about, and every day for the first few months I would go up to the old part, which they finished building in 1467 and hadn’t touched since then, to watch the sunset from the city walls. That sounds embarrassing – “to watch the sunset” – but what can I say, I did. I was up there one afternoon when I first saw it happen – you know, where it first registered.

A man and a woman arrived up. Tourists. They’d walked up and this was their first stop to enjoy the view. The man started pointing. Below, the ground is totally flat. Flat all the way to Milan. And he was explaining things to her. She wasn’t explaining anything to him. He was telling her that the city below was very flat, and if you looked over in that direction you could etc, etc.

After that, I saw it happen more often. In an art gallery, a couple would walk around and it would be the man who would have to point things out in a painting. I even found myself doing it. Ever since, I’ve been aware of it.

Last week my wife bought a book called Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit. The book is a collection of essays which Solnit wrote, the first of them being Men Explain Things to Me, in 2008. If you haven’t read it, I’d really recommend it. It’s short, but it has a lot to say and – at the risk of scaring you off – I think a couple of hundred copies should probably be distributed free to every school in the country.

I’d like to see this kind of thing on the news – can you imagine: “today hundreds of Irish women realised they were tired of having things which they already knew explained to them, and they have decided to put a stop to it in a polite, but firm manner…”

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